January was a cold month here, but it was warm in my reading chair. I’m not sure how to characterize this list, but in addition to the book of the month, there were several other gems. David Wenham’s Paul: Follower Jesus or Founder of Christianity and Raymond E. Brown’s The Birth of the Messiah are both theological classics as is Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in science fiction. Louis Menand’s The Free World is a tour de force of intellectual and cultural history in the twenty years following World War II. I continue to work my way through Louise Penny and #13 in the Gamache series continued the string of excellent mysteries in this series. Restless Devices and Stability both approach our distracted and restless lives, albeit in different ways. I hope you enjoy reading through this list as much as I enjoyed reading and reviewing the books!
Orient Express, Graham Greene. New York: Open Road Media, 2018 (originally published as Stamboul Train in 1932). Seven people on a train between Ostend and Constantinople intersect in various ways, making choices about the kind of people they will be. Review
Notes from No Man’s Land, Eula Biss. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2009. A collection of American essays connected to four places the author lived, all exploring the realities of race in which we all are implicated. Review
Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity, David Wenham. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1995 (print on demand). A study of the relationship of Pauline thought to the teachings of Jesus by a comprehensive effort to compare them on a number of major themes. Review
The Free World, Louis Menand. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021. An intellectual and cultural history of the forces and figures whose creations contributed to the emergence of the United States as an intellectual and artistic leader in the years between 1945 and 1965. Review
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein. New York: Ace, 2018 (originally published in 1966). In 2076, Luna, a colony of Earth on the Moon, decides to declare independence, to end the one-sided grain export to earth that will deplete lunar ice reservoirs, under the leadership of a sentient computer. Review
Changed Into His Likeness (New Studies in Biblical Theology), J. Gary Miller. Downers Grove: IVP Academic/London: Apollos, 2021. (UK publisher link) A biblical study of how personal transformation takes place in the life of a believer. Review
The Birth of the Messiah, Raymond E. Brown. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1979 (Link is to 2nd edition, published in 1999 by Yale University Press). An academic commentary on the Birth Narratives in Matthew and Luke. Review
Interpreting the God-Breathed Word, Robbie F. Castleman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018. A book for all who want to be students of scripture focusing on how to study and understand the texts employing inductive study, speech-act theory, and canonical interpretation. Review
Glass Houses (Chief Inspector Gamache #13), Louise Penny. New York: Minotaur Books, 2017. A mysterious figure robed in black, the murder of a woman found in those robes, a confession, and a trial, during which Gamache has made choices of conscience that could cost lives and save many. Review
Artists in Crime, (Roderick Alleyn #6), Ngaio Marsh. New York: Felony & Mayhem Press, 2012 (originally published in 1937). A murder occurs at the studio of artist Agatha Troy, who Alleyn had met on his voyage back to England; the beginning in fits and starts of a romance while Alleyn seeks to solve the crime. Review
Stuck in the Present: How History Frees & Forms Christians, David George Moore (Foreword by Carl R. Trueman). Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2021. A discussion of the value of reading history for the Christian, better equipping us not only to understand our past but to engage our present, and how to make the most of what we learn. Review
The Memory of Old Jack, Wendell Berry. Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 1999 (Originally published 1974). Old Jack Beechum, the oldest of the Port William membership, spends a September day remembering his life. Review
Restless Devices, Felicia Wu Song. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021. An exploration of how our digital devices shape us, our relationships, and our economic life, and how we might establish a “counter” lifestyle shaped by our communion with God and each other. Review
Stability, Nathan Oates. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2021. An exploration of the Benedictine commitment to stability, and what it can meet to sink our roots deeply, first into Christ, and then into the people and places to which he invites us. Review
Best of the Month: Maybe it is hometown loyalties, but I’ll go with Hanif Abdurraqib’s A Little Devil in America, a wonderful exploration of Black performance, some known to me and some not, and how they are emblematic of the Black experience in America. His account of Merry Clayton was fascinating. She was an amazing singer who never was able to launch a solo career, but sang a spine-chilling back up in the Rolling Stones Gimme Shelter. Give it a listen on YouTube, especially at the 2:46 mark where she sings “Rape, Murder, it’s just a shot away,” especially the third time when her voice cracks on the second syllable of “murder.’ He also tells the story of Janet Baker, who had an amazing career that extends way beyond dancing.
Best Quote of the Month: The Memory of Old Jack is a wonderful book in Wendell Berry’s Port William Membership stories that I had not previously read. “Old Jack” Beechum is at the end of his life, and we spend a lovely September day in the memories of his life. A key passage describes a turning point in his life when he hit rock bottom…and then went on:
“That his life was renewed, that he had been driven down to the bedrock of his own place in the world, and his own truth and had stood again, that a profound peace and trust had come to him out of his suffering and his solitude, and that this peace would abide with him to the end of his days–all this he knew in the quiet of his heart and kept to himself.“
What I’m Reading: I’m in the middle of Eula Biss’s reflections on capitalism evoked by a move to a nicer home and neighborhood in Having and Being Had. I admire her writing, that combines depth and brevity. I’ve finally gotten around to one of my goals for last year to read a book on food, Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I can understand why he is popular as a writer on our suspect American ways of eating and our relationship with food. His week with an off the grid super-organic farmer is worth the price of admission. Plough Publishing has released a wonderful collection of essays, titled Breaking Ground, from the first year of the pandemic that particularly explores how we find our way out of our divided society. Brad East’s The Doctrine of Scripture is one of the most thought provoking books on this topic I’ve read, exploring what it means to call the Bible the Word of God, how we interpret with some striking critique of authorial intention, insights in terms of apostolic interpretation and focus on Christ, and the importance of interpreting with the church and in light of the rule of faith. Finally, I’ve been unexpectedly delighted by a memoir by Monique Misenga Ngoie Mukuna’s account of her expanding ministry of empowering women and fighting systemic poverty in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The book is Cradling Abundance.
The Month in Reviews is my monthly review summary going back to 2014!